This is welcome news to farmers, ranchers, landowners, and sportsmen and women, who depend on farm bill programs to restore and improve wildlife habitat, enhance water quality, and make private acres available for hunting and fishing.
“We’re relieved to see a Farm Bill move forward before this Congress concludes, because every day we go without critical programs for habitat and access it creates more uncertainty for rural America,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “With full funding for conservation and increased funding for states to create new walk-in access for hunting and fishing, this bill is a win all around—for sportsmen and women, landowners, wildlife, water quality, and our economy.”
The agreement includes a $10-million increase for the Voluntary Public Access program, which funds walk-in access for hunting and fishing on private land across the country.
“Since the 2014 Farm Bill expired this fall, it has been tough for landowners like me to make definitive decisions about how to put conservation on the ground, despite having the best intentions,” says Zane Zaubi of Horizon Land Development, who hosts youth and first-time hunters on land he has enrolled in VPA. “For farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the country who are willing to do the right thing, it’s a tremendous positive to have a Farm Bill on the horizon, ready to work for our business portfolios, local wildlife, and access to hunting and fishing.”
The conference committee was able to agree on providing increased funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, which helps landowners protect, restore, and improve wetlands. The legislation also provides a much needed increase in funding and flexibility for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which funds multi-state and watershed-scale projects to enhance soil, water, and wildlife conservation.